Thursday, March 20, 2014

21st Century Mission and Forming Mutual Partnerships: George Howard on Grace Upon Grace: Mission: Global

Today's post is the latest in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today.  This piece is written by George Howard, Deputy General Secretary for Mission and Evangelism at the General Board of Global Ministries.  Mr. Howard is commenting on the fifth section of the document, "Mission: Global."  Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.

Post-Modern or 21st Century Mission invites Christians to impact the world and be impacted by it out of a stance of humility and partnership. God is at work in all corners of the globe, and as Christians we seek to join in what God is already doing.

As a worldwide church we are called to operate out of a comprehensive worldview with a holistic mission; we are required to think globally and act locally. John Wesley began class meetings and societies while he was visiting in the prisons and on college campuses. At the same time he established the Methodist headquarters at the Foundry where the movement addressed issues of usury fees, education and health. It was the “center of many philanthropic agencies, including the charity school, a dispensary, almshouse for nine poor widows, and a loan society.” (John Wesley The Methodist, Chapter VIII, “Revival Preaching,” Wesley Online,  Wesley also wrote Primitive Physics which was used across England and America. As pioneers moved west they were as apt to have Wesley’s book on medicine in their saddle bag as a Bible. 

Paragraph 27 on Mission: Global states that “Christian population is growing most rapidly in Africa and Asia.” It is on these continents where the church most often embraces and practices a holistic approach to the gospel. Churches there are directly involved in evangelism, health, economic development, and education as importance components of the Gospel message. It is from these places where the global church has much to learn in order that the Methodist movement might thrive elsewhere.

Partnerships continue to emerge. They are built by leaders committed to long term relationships, asset based approaches, mutual respect and power sharing in decision-making. This is especially seen in Round Tables which are being held across the world. Organized by the General Board of Global Ministries, these gatherings convene local leaders along with outside partners to hear about priorities, projects and assets within the community or region.  Together they identify ways of collaboration that enable the local leadership to increase their capacity and to flourish. Outside partners often provide the catalyst for action which compliments the actions and assets available locally.

A Guide to Mission Round Tables states, “The central theological understanding for round tables as a methodology of mission engagement comes from a commitment to mutuality among all mission partners.  ‘Mutuality’ here means the pursuit of goal-oriented relationships, strategic in outlook, that share a vision of God’s Mission and God’s coming reign among all people and creation as a whole.”

It further states that, “In the New Testament, mutuality is affirmed by the principle of equality of work, and the equal value of all workers, as expressed in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Everyone’s voice is of equal value, and all partners have resources for use in God’s Mission. The practice of mutuality in mission captures Paul’s emphasis in 1 Corinthians 12 on the importance of all parts of the church as the body of Christ, all parts being essential to the whole, and needing to be treated with equality of engagement and care.”

Partnership is not a new concept, but there is a fundamental shift when leaders operate out of humility and vulnerability in order to truly be partners. Practiced over time this posture of service and leadership can lead to authentic relationships, as trust is established and long lasting results become possible.

The Soochow Hospital (now called First Affiliated Hospital of Soochow University) in China was established by Methodist missionaries in 1883.  As part of their 130th celebration it reached out to Global Ministries to reestablish a partnership with The United Methodist Church. The hospital is one of the country’s premier hospitals and desires to maintain that reputation. To do so, it is establishing a collaborative relationship with the Methodist Hospital in New York.

A micro-credit program is being established through partnerships in The Malawi Provisional Annual Conference. The pilot program involves church leaders in the US, a missionary from Germany, and pastors across Malawi to recruit villagers and provide training. It is the local pastors who are reaching out to people within the community to encouraging them to participate in the program as a way of fulfilling their own dreams. The partnership is increasing the capacity of families to do what they are already doing. 

 UM Church for All People in Columbus, Ohio, has a partnership with neighborhood groups, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, businessmen, and city officials to build or refurbish houses. They desire to strengthen a mixed income neighborhood by renting and selling safe affordable houses to people in the community.  The partnership built on local assets including the hopes and dreams of residents, the existing housing stock, and the determination of community leaders to organize and build a coalition of partners.

As Christians who yearn to be lifelong learners growing in our discipleship, and as a Church which longs to be a learning organization, we continue to glean insights from successes and failures.  The history of local and international Christian mission has much to teach us so that we change and continue to be relevant in today’s world. Books like When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, point to the savior complex of many who engage in mission.  Leaders like Bishop Hans Vaxby from Finland point to the dependency trap which has hindered the Methodist movement in Russia and other places around the globe.

Those in ministry with the poor ranging from the United States to Cambodia, to Russia, to Zimbabwe, know that partnership means accompaniment. Accompaniment does not mean fixing another’s problems, but, rather, walking alongside one another as we draw closer in respect and mutuality. Accompaniment leads to a long term partnership which increases the capacity of all involved as together we address underlying faith and social challenges.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a holistic gospel and when we partner in mission with others across the community and around the world we strengthen our own discipleship, that of our partners, and the witness as seen by those who do not yet have a personal relationship with God.

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